Many years ago, legendary angler Hank Parker learned a valuable lesson and earned his biggest tournament check in a place called Cooley Cove. The host of "Hank Parker's Outdoor Magazine" television series was competing in a Super Bass event held on Florida's St. Johns River, which paid out $175,000 to the victor.
"During my practice time," tells Parker, "I found good numbers of big bass in this place called Cooley Cove. On my first pass through the area, I caught a 9-1/2-pounder, and four others at about 6 pounds. I also had a couple of big fish hit and miss my spinnerbait. I was both excited and concerned."
Parker spent a lot of time considering what adjustments he would make if conditions changed and put the bite down. During the first of four competition days, Parker went nearly 3 hours before getting his first strike. "During my earlier years as a competitor," shares Parker, "I would have pulled up the trolling motor and said 'I am out of here.' Instead, I stayed and tried to reason the problem out."
Anglers familiar with the St. Johns River know that it's influenced by subtle tidal changes. Although the difference in water level between tides was a mere 10 inches, the change in current flow was significant. The two-time BASS Masters Classic champion admits that he initially overlooked the tidal influence. However, after remembering there was more eel grass showing during the big bite in practice, Parker deduced that his big fish were most likely feeding on the outgoing tide.
Parker was determined to stay in the area long enough to test that tide. "I wouldn't have won that event if I had quit on the area early or hadn't noticed the difference in the amount of exposed grass," Parker concludes. "Sometimes the subtlest clues -ones that most anglers miss-are the keys to patterning and catching bass."
Like Parker, Texas' Gary Klein has won events by correctly reading nature's clues. One memorable victory occurred on Florida's Lake Okeechobee, when a flock of seagulls drew Klein away from the area he was fishing and out to the middle of the lake.
"Once I got out there," he explains, "it was easy fishing. Yet, no one else was out there."
According to Klein, the more important messages Nature gives aren't as easy to spot as is a flock of birds. Many messages-a wind shift, a change in cloud cover or the way a bass reacts to a lure-are difficult to recognize and read. The Weatherford pro believes most anglers' inability to pick up on the subtlest clues is linked to their own environment.
"Those of us who live in heavily populated areas and make long commutes have a tremendous amount of environmental noise and stimuli coming at us," Klein notes. "We're conditioned to shut out the excessive environmental noise and to focus on only what's important. That hurts us when we're outdoors."
Klein's point is simple-most anglers' focus is too narrow. When focusing purely on the cast and retrieve, they miss what's going on around them. They're literally numb to clues and changes occurring in the bass' environment.
According to Klein, anglers can learn to be more observant. But it takes a focused effort, as well as time on the water. "Admittedly," reveals Klein, "I don't have the ability to instantly put myself into that mental state. I think it's because I am so socialized. That's why I like unlimited practice time. It gives me time to settle back into the bass' environment."
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